Last season, Austin Hedges got off to one of the worst starts in recent memory at the plate, going zero for his first 24.
This season, in his first 24 at bats, he had two hits. Progress?
After 48 plate appearances in 2018, it may not be fair to ask this question, but let’s do it anyway.
Is Austin Hedges any better at the plate this year? Last year, he hit 18 home runs, and that was really the only redeeming quality. Among the batters who had at least 400 plate appearances last season, Hedges was 10th-worst in wRC+ with 71 and his strikeout rate of 29.3% was among the 25 highest. He also batted just .214.
Through 13 games last season, he was hitting .146 with two homers and a 30.4% strikeout rate.
This season, on the surface, looks to be much of the same as he has a 35.4% strikeout rate with a 41 wRC+ and two home runs and a .152 average. Before we make any more conclusions, let’s dive a little deeper.
|Line Drive Rate|
|Hard contact rate|
|Swing at pitches outside K-zone|
Looking at these comparisons, it’s tough to say Hedges has improved so far early in the 2018 season. He is hitting fewer line drives, making weaker contact, and walking less. He has only slightly improved his swinging outside the strike zone rate and that’s with swinging less in general (53.1% swing rate last year, 47.9% this season).
Of course, Hedges’ value goes far beyond his offensive numbers. His defense is why he is penciled in the lineup everyday. He has come as advertised behind the plate with the glove. Catchers don’t have as much pressure to bring the lumber at the plate when they handle a pitching staff well and are good backstops on defense. Hedges certainly made a splash with his recent diving catch and double play last week.
However, strictly talking offense, Hedges has not improved. He now has 643 career plate appearances with a lifetime average of .195 and 55 wRC+. How much longer do we give him until we realize this is who he is at the plate? I wrote an article recently, trying to put a number on plate appearances needed to gauge how good a young player really is. In that experiment, the average size was 783 career plate appearances. Hedges will reach that total this season.
Is Hedges ever going to flirt with a batting title? No. Martin Maldonado is considered one of the best defensive catchers in the game, rightfully winning a Gold Glove last season, but he hit .221 with 14 homers. Mike Zunino is in that same boat, with a bit more pop, like Hedges, with 25 home runs and no one cared that he only hit .251 when he played the solid defense and hit the occasional bomb. Hedges can be in that mix with even just slightly better numbers. If Hedges, with his defensive prowess, can improve his average to the .240-.250 range, he will be up there with the best catchers in the league.
We love him here in San Diego for his perfect hair, despite wearing a helmet the whole game, either catching or hitting, his rugged good looks, and his “Web Gem” defensive skills, but if he wants to take it to the next level and be the catcher and leader on the next great Padres team, his bat needs to get better.